Calendar Girls The Musical ~ Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Sunflowers were out in full force as Calendar Girls The Musical landed at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre last night and brought the full house to tears and to their feet with Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s stunning piece of musical theatre.

The show tells the true story of a Women’s Institute in Yorkshire who made waves with a nude calendar instead of their usual conventional offering. The idea is the brainchild of ‘Chris’ (played by Rebecca Storm) when she dares her fellow members to bare all behind a current bun to raise money for a new sofa for the relatives room at their local hospital. Chris’s Friend ‘Annie’ (Sarah Jane Buckley) loses her husband John (Phil Corbitt) to blood cancer and it’s her experience of the hard wooden chairs in the room she spends much of her time in that makes Chris so determined to be helpful. Albeit helpful in a way that shocks her fellow W.I. members and enrages the snooty Chairwoman, Mari (Judy Holt). It’s a rollercoaster journey for all the characters which ultimately sees an ordinary group of ladies face their fears and triumph. A more heartwarming and heartbreaking story you won’t find – I’ve never before experienced a musical that makes me cry so hard and laugh so uncontrollably in equal measure and in quick succession.

Rebecca Storm is a marvel in the role of Chris, the rule-breaking florist who’s trying so desperately to keep a handle on her teenage son whilst being a rock to her best friend and pushing her unconventional idea forward. Storm’s rendition of the musical number ‘Sunflower’ is show-stopping. Lisa Maxwell shines as Celia, the grounded air hostess who is struggling to fit in at her husband’s golf club. Her solo number ‘So I’ve Had A Little Work Done’ is one of the highlights of the show. Sue Devaney is perfect casting for Cora and her performance of ‘Silent Night’ is joyful, she’s such an engaging performer and a game girl too! Julia Hills is a revelation (in more ways than one!) as Ruth, she gives a very physical performance which enhances all of Ruth’s character traits. The scene in which she sings ‘My Russian Friend and I’ is both hilarious and sorrowful and her singing voice is powerful too. Pauline Daniels is playing the role of retired Headmistress, Jessie (Ruth Madoc is still out of action at the moment) and much as I am aware of Madoc’s talents, I admit I have fallen in love with Daniels’ portrayal of Jessie. She teases out every quality in the pinnacle role and her performance of ‘What Age Expects’ brought the house down. What an amazing vocalist she is.

Sarah Jane Buckley is playing the part I have no doubt she was born to play. She gives a measured, intelligent performance as Annie with a good dose of mischievous fun into the bargain and astonishing vocal ability to boot which lends itself to all of her musical numbers. ‘Scarborough’ gives the audience an insight into Annie and John’s lives and a snapshot of what life would be like without John. ‘Kilimanjaro’ raises the roof, Buckley puts all the pent up emotion into this beautifully crafted song. That moment will resonate with me for some time.

There are also superb performances from younger members of the cast, including; Isabel Caswell as Jenny, Tyler Dobbs as Tommo and Danny Howker as Danny. The entire ensemble are a strong, solid unit though and there is not one weak link nor a performer amongst them who didn’t attract my attention for all the right reasons.

From the opening scene to the magical moments when the calendar is being made – I was unwaveringly emotionally invested in the story and the people. It’s a production not to be missed!

Go and see my favourite musical for yourselves: Calendar Girls tickets

Calendar Girls The Musical ~ New Cast : New Enthusiasm

I’ve been reviewing musical theatre productions since 2012. My love of musical theatre dates back to my wee small years when my parents took me to see a number of popular shows at either Birmingham Hippodrome, Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham or Wolverhampton Grand Theatre. Great memories remain and the buzz I reveled in at the time and on our way home afterwards while I clutched my programme and finished off any sweets we might have had left is a feeling I cherish. Inevitably there comes a point where, as a regular theatre-goer, you’ll have seen the vast majority of productions in a variety of incarnations. I reached a stale-mate with musical theatre recently, where apart from Blood Brothers which remains a steady favourite, I’ve lacked the inspiration and will to get up and go to see musicals.

The inspirational block wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as it turned my head in the direction of the Opera and I’ve been lapping up as many opportunities as possible to go to see different Operas. However, there is another musical theatre production that I have a passion for aside from Blood Brothers. I saw this particular musical twice in the West End and had great fun interviewing one of the stars of the show too, Claire Machin, Calendar Girls the Musical from the combined force of Mr Gary Barlow of Take That fame and Tim Firth is the one I’m referring to and the soundtrack from the West End cast has a regular home in our car for sing-alongs, it’s addictive!

Sarah Jane Buckley will be missed when she leaves one of my favourite musicals, Blood Brothers!

One of the many reasons that I return to Blood Brothers time and time again is that Sarah Jane Buckley has been playing the role of Mrs Lyons and understudying Mrs Johnstone. She is incredibly believable as both characters, giving beautifully nuanced performances. She’s also one of a few performers I make a great effort to support, as she has been immensely supportive of my little blogging empire. I had fully intended to see Calendar Girls the Musical on its tour before this year, especially as Fern Britton was cast as Marie, the disapproving W.I. Leader. However, I have now got yet another reason to get out there and see it – there’s a brand new cast (although Rebecca Storm and Ruth Madoc (who was one of my childhood heroes) remain) and Sarah Jane Buckley is playing the role of Annie. It’s a part which I watched Joanna Riding and Jenny Gayner play at the Phoenix Theatre, London and which I had my eye on for Sarah Jane to play, funnily enough, I knew she’d fit it brilliantly.

I loved The Girls when it ran at the Phoenix Theatre in London’s West End

So, with midlands tour dates on their list and not only Sarah Jane Buckley on the cast list, which is a draw in itself for me obviously, but also Sue Devaney who I loved in ‘Dinnerladies’ and Julia Hills of 2 Point 4 Children fame joining the line up – I need to go and see the show again (and again!). My enthusiasm for the show has been renewed of course, but also my enthusiasm for musical theatre off the back of my palpable excitement. The buzz is back and I’m raring to see more musicals because I’m so enthused about the tour of Calendar Girls. Of course, when you’re a fan-girl, as I am, and your best-loved performer is taking on a new challenge, that in itself is always quite a moment. Sarah Jane will embrace the role of Annie and make it her own, that’s my totally biased view… I can already imagine her singing ‘Scarborough’. I can’t wait!!!

I can’t wait to see Calendar Girls the Musical again – ‘Sunflower’ is one of my best loved songs from the show

When it comes to any production, be it a musical, a play, a television series or even a film – we all have our favourites in the various roles and there’s no denying that the West End cast of ‘The Girls‘, as it was called then, were outstanding. From Sophie Louise Dann to Claire Machin to Michele Dotrice and indeed Joanna Riding – each and every one of the girls and boys in the cast put their heart and soul into the show. However, I hope that all the theatre fans out there who have a passion for the show as I do will give the new cast a chance. I think they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.

With the announcement finally out there today that there’s a new line-up in the offing to get behind those buns, I’m just so happy that my musical mojo is back! Bring on a year of musical theatre trips in 2019!

If you want to book tickets for the tour, you’ll see the current cast until the gang head to Southend. I’m sorry to have missed out on the chance of seeing Fern Britton, however from Southend onwards I predict a new magic in the air for this amazing piece of musical theatre.

calendargirlsthemusical.com

Photo Credit: John Swannell

Blood Brothers ~ Malvern Theatres

Blood Brothers, the musical that has had a special place in my heart for a long time – it will always be a five star production in my eyes and has yet to deviate from that honour. Each time I see it feels like watching again for the first time as it’s easy to find something I may have missed on other occasions.

If you don’t know the story let me enlighten you… the action is set in Liverpool where class difference has never been more prominent and centres around Mrs Johnstone, her family and struggles. She was married but he scarpered as soon as the number of children she was having almost rivaled that of a football team. With twins on the way and the welfare threatening to take her kids away she reluctantly strikes up a bargain with her well to do employer, Mrs Lyons. Splitting up her twin boys, Mickey grows up with the big boisterous family and of course, Mrs Johnstone as his mother, whereas Edward is raised by Mr and Mrs Lyons, with Mr Lyons remaining in the dark about the reason why his apparently barren wife has born him a son. As the lads grow up, having met each other and become friends when they were age 7 (nearly 8) there’s a love triangle developing with a girl called Linda and the class divide is set to catalyse fatal consequences.

You’re bound to have heard a number of the timeless songs; there’s ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’, ‘My Child’, ‘Easy Terms’ and ‘Marilyn Monroe’ to name a few. Linzi Hateley plays the iconic role of Mrs Johnstone, taking over from Lyn Paul, she’s made the role her own. Mark Hutchinson plays Edward (Eddie) and his years of experience in the part are very telling, it’s almost like a second skin for him. Robbie Scotcher is a moody, shadow-dwelling narrator, the power of his vocals wows and he possesses extraordinary stage presence. Daniel Taylor will always be my Sammy, the tantrums are show-stopping and there’s always a splash of real menace which hints at what the future holds for the character. Danielle Corlass gives another flawless performance as Linda. Tim Churchill is as superb as always, excellent as Mr Lyons and hilarious as the milkman cum gynaecologist. The ensemble are also as strong as ever with Graham Martin reducing the audience to tears of laughter with his performances as the Judge and the two vastly different teachers. Amy-Jane Ollies also shines as Donna Marie and Miss Jones. Andy Owens never fails to give a wonderfully funny portrayal of the nerdy pal, Perkins.

Last night belonged, for me personally, to Sean Jones as Mickey and Sarah Jane Buckley as Mrs Lyons. That’s because it was the last time that I was to see them in the show. They’re both bound for pastures new and with Sean having 15 years under his belt it’s going to be rather strange getting used to a new Mickey. Sarah Jane joined the cast in 2016, but it’s no secret that I was already a huge fan (and still am a huge fan!) as I loved her as Kathy Barnes in Channel Four’s Hollyoaks. As Mrs Lyons she has surpassed my expectations, adding an extra something special to the ‘bridesmaid’ of the female roles. I was also lucky enough to see her play Mrs Johnstone as she has understudied the part, and her performance still resonates now. One of my favourite experiences in the theatre.

Sean Jones IS Mickey, so although I’m certain the new one will be fantastic and find his feet, I’m sure the loss of Sean from the cast will be felt keenly. Wishing both of them all the best for their future roles anyway – which I know they will both be amazing in. Look out for them, and indeed catch them in one of the venues that they will tour to with Blood Brothers before they finish. This is the first of their four remaining weeks with the tour.

All in all, Blood Brothers is one of the best nights at the theatre you could wish for, miss it at your peril! If you want to catch it at the wonderful Malvern Festival Theatre, it plays there until Saturday 2nd February: blood-brothers

Photo credits: Robert Day

A Few of my Favourite Things…

As an entertainment and lifestyle blogger I’m always asked about my favourites, especially when I interview performers and creatives, I put the spotlight on them and more often than not the cheeky devils turn the tables on me! What’s my favourite musical, favourite play, who do I aspire to be? So, in the same way that every good website has a FAQs section, I thought I’d let you all in on my favourite things!

Favourite Musical

I’ve named this blogpost A Few of my Favourite Things, not because The Sound of Music is top of the list in the musical theatre stakes – although I do have a place in my heart for the show and I loved the incarnation which toured fairly recently and starred the superb Pippa Winslow and Zoe Ann Bown.

I digress, Blood Brothers is my all-time favourite musical. I can watch it over and over, I could watch it back to back and never get bored. I jump at the gunshot every time, I cry at different scenes but I do always cry. My favourite songs from the show have never changed, ‘My Child’ and ‘Show Upon The Table’. Musical theatre numbers at their best, give them a listen!

Narrowly missing the number one spot are:

  1. Phantom of the Opera (favourite Phantom is the mighty Ramin Karimloo!)
  2. The Girls (‘Silent Night’ sung by Claire Machin is quite a moment…)
  3. Mamma Mia (the ultimate feel-good musical and the current West End cast are insanely good)

Favourite Opera

Opera is a recent addition to my list of happy places and it’s all thanks to a chance viewing of The Mikado on Sky Arts. I saw opera star Yvonne Howard playing the role of Katisha and she blew me away. From there I was checking out her credits and finding myself gripped by classical opera in a way I never could have imagined.

My current favourite opera is Falstaff, I saw it at Garsington Opera very recently and it’s continued to resonate. I have a long-standing love affair with Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, they’ve been on my radar since I was a kid, however, Verdi’s Falstaff is something else. Comedy, poignancy and Italian language – it’s a treat for the eyes and the ears.

Favourite Play

Farce is my bag, when it comes to non-musical theatre I gravitate towards a laugh out loud comedy. Ray Cooney is one of my best-loved playwrights and recently I had the great pleasure of reviewing his production of Move Over Mrs Markham. It’s the king of farce and with the perfect cast, which the version I watched this year undoubtedly possessed – makes for a perfect night at the theatre for yours truly!

Favourite Film

I’m a Disney fan and a Harry Potter geek, so choosing a favourite film is nigh on impossible. All the Harry Potter films would be one answer, all the Disney films would be another answer.

If I move away from those particular passions and opportunities for geekery, I’d have to go with the hilarious American Pie movies. I can’t choose between them because the cast stays almost consistent throughout all four of the main films from the franchise. If there were major alterations to the line-up I think that would affect my judgement, however the proverbial dream team appear in them all (barring the lack of Chris Klein as Oz in the third film – which I might never get over!). I have met Thomas Ian Nicholas too, at a comic con – something else I may never get over. Truly.

An addition to my list of films which I can re-watch with alarming regularity is a surprise entry. I didn’t expect to love Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance anywhere near as much as I did. The royal family are portrayed by a cast of exceptionally talented actors and I can’t recommend it highly enough. You can read my review here: Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance Review

Favourite Television Programme

So tricky to narrow this one down so I’m going to pick one (or more!) from each genre. If we’re talking about Soap Operas then it has to be Coronation Street (closely followed by Hollyoaks). The Street is a continuing drama that never loses momentum and some of the old favourites still reside there.

ITV Home Fires

One of my all-time favourite television dramas was Home Fires on ITV. The fact that it didn’t get a third series was bewildering and it still has a place in my heart. Unforgotten recently trumped it for Sunday night TV but I also love Call The Midwife, I can’t wait for the Christmas special. These dramas all have excellent casts who gel and make the show thoroughly watchable.

No modern day sitcom comes close to the classics I grew up watching. Hi De Hi!, You Rang M’Lord, Keeping Up Appearances. There’s nothing there to beat them, the opportunity to watch them on Gold is a god-send. Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em is equally up there with the best comedies in my humble opinion. They are all on my must-watch list and half an hour of any of these shows can turn my frown upside down.

Favourite Actor

The name Stephen Beckett is one that immediately springs to mind, the admiration dates back to The Bill, Coronation Street and now last year’s Prospero in The Tempest at Stafford Castle and most definitely Mamma Mia at the Novello Theatre – Bill Austin is a part that was surely made for him. I didn’t know he could sing either so he’s most definitely an all-rounder de force.

I also need to add the incomparable Daniel Taylor to the mix, not only is he my favourite Sammy in my favourite musical, Blood Brothers – he’s also the best Tommy Cooper impersonator ever. He looks good in a dress, I can attest to that as I saw him as an Ugly Sister in Cinderella last year… just to clear that up! Seriously though, I don’t think there’s anything he can’t do.

As for screen actors, I hand the accolade to Seann William Scott, he is also better known as Stifler from the American Pie films and I think he’s got one of the most wonderful faces! Even when he’s voicing the role of Crash in Ice Age, I can picture him recording the voice of the character. I think his forte is comedy, although when he’s in a more dramatic role he still holds my attention – what an actor!

The actor I first admired when I was a telly addict child is Jeffrey Holland, Hi De Hi! was a must-watch in our house and I was smitten with Spike. Jeff is a chameleon when it comes to acting, there’s much more to him that meets the eye.

Favourite Actress

If we’re talking on stage then Sarah Jane Buckley without hesitation. In musical theatre she is exceptional, in pantomime she’s perfection and I first discovered her when she played the role of the unstable and, let’s face it, quite scary Kathy Barnes in Hollyoaks. I’ve always felt that the sky’s the limit for this super-talented lady. Sarah Jane is my best-loved actress on stage and on screen, without hesitation.

Through watching Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance I discovered two actresses who were previously unknown to me and whom I now intend to keep my eyes peeled for in future. Deborah Ramsay portrayed Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Parisa Fitz-Henley played Meghan. I’m a royalist and their performances in particular resonated upon first viewing of what is now one of my favourite films and I am eager to see their faces on screen again soon.

A cheeky mention must go to the wonderful Judy Buxton too, she was one of my favourite actresses when I was growing up with watching some of the best sit coms on television and she is a power-house on stage, the epitome of versatility.

Favourite Singer

Too many to mention, however with my newly discovered love of opera the first names out of my mouth are those of Yvonne Howard and Marcus Farnsworth. The latter grabbed my attention and never let it go when he starred in the ENO production of Iolanthe at the Coliseum earlier this year. The former wowed me in The Mikado, Iolanthe and Falstaff, I’ve also heard her sing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ in Carousel thanks to YouTube. Glorious!

I can’t finish the favourites post without a mention going to Ramin Karimloo, he was my first Phantom and he’ll always be my Phantom. Vocal ability that pushes boundaries, he’s a force of nature.

Photo Credits: Blood Brothers (Bill Kenwright Website), Falstaff (Clive Barda), Cast of Move Over Mrs Markham (Ray Cooney),  Stephen Beckett in The Tempest (Stafford Shakespeare Festival),  Sarah Jane Buckley as Mrs Lyons in Blood Brothers (with permission from Sarah Jane Buckley), Deborah Ramsay as Camilla in Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance (Lifetime TV), ENO’s Iolanthe (Clive Barda), Ramin Karimloo (Sourced from Broadway World)

 

 

Blood Brothers ~ Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Blood Brothers is on UK tour, check out the remaining dates and book tickets here: Blood Brothers

Star rating: *****

Blood Brothers is my all-time favourite musical and it was a delight to see the show at one of my local theatres and with a brand new Narrator on board.

The story of the Johnstone twins is at the heart of the tale, separated at birth because their mother, Mrs Johnstone (Lyn Paul) doesn’t know how she will feed two extra, hungry mouths. She’s also at risk of some of her kids being taken into care, which she regales to her employer, the sympathetic yet calculating Mrs Lyons (Sarah Jane Buckley). She and Mr Lyons (Tim Churchill) have been unable to conceive and it’s obviously a heartbreaking secret that Mrs Lyons is  not living with very successfully, hence her lightbulb moment – give one of the twins to her. Once the deal is done, both women are hounded by the Narrator (Matthew Craig) who is all encompassing and an intimidating presence representing their respective consciences and the devil, in my opinion. As we follow the lives of the Johnstone twins from birth to age seven (nearly eight) and through their teenage years, with Sean Jones as Mickey and Mark Hutchinson as Eddie playing the boys brilliantly well through all stages of life, it becomes clear that the ever-present shadow of the narrator is forecasting a gloomy finale.

With popular musical numbers such as ‘Marilyn Monroe’, ‘My Child’, ‘Easy Terms’ and ‘Tell Me Its Not True’ punctuating the action-packed rollercoaster, it’s an emotional, believable tale packed with as many laughter-inducing moment as tear-jerking ones.

Lyn Paul is one of the ultimate Mrs Johnstones, she brings heart, grit and intricacy to the role. Sean Jones is my favourite Mickey, I feel he has the highest mountain to descend as he spirals downwards from a carefree child to the depths of what life has to throw at him once he hits adulthood, prematurely. Mark Hutchinson is a fantastic contrast as Eddie, from his posh tone of voice to the kooky ways he tries to mimic Mickey, he’s a complex character, too. Sarah-Jane Buckley never fails to astound me as Mrs Lyons, she finds fresh nuances in the character every time I see her in the role and her vocal ability is exceptionally stunning. Tim Churchill does an amazing job of playing multiple roles, each of them notable in their own right – from Mr Lyons, to the Milkman or is it the Gynaecologist? He even plays one of the young kids playing out on the street. Similarly Graham Martin plays his multiple roles superbly, from Mr Johnstone, to the Policeman to the randy old Judge – his capabilities are boundless. Danielle Corlass draws me in as Linda, she’s quirky and girlie as the seven year old and grows magnificently into the beautiful woman who causes the twins to be at loggerheads. Matthew Craig is an imposing presence as the Narrator, he’s really made the role his own. A special mention must also go to Amy-Jane Ollies who stepped in to play ALL the other female characters as well as Donna-Marie, her usual role. A truly talented performer who shone in every part she played.

The production has most certainly stood the test of time and I can always find something different and ‘new’ in each performance. The production boasts an inviting set which provides a convincing backdrop, Liverpool was definitely ‘in’ Wolverhampton last night! From the back to back houses to the sparkling street lights, it’s what I believe to be a truthful insight into life in the city. Class difference is also highlighted throughout, subtly until it builds to the tragic crescendo we’re faced with at the beginning of the musical.

Go and see Blood Brothers for yourself, it’ll challenge your way of thinking, make you want to sing along, have you crying with laughter and sobbing with heartbreak. An extraordinarily timeless piece of theatre.

 

International Women’s Day 2018 ~ My Inspirations

International Women’s Day has crept up on us again and I’m ready and raring to celebrate. However, Women’s Day should be celebrated every day. I have so much admiration for a whole host of amazing women on a daily basis. Some are fellow bloggers, many of them are friends and there are a handful whom I admire from afar and would possibly pass out in front of should we come face to face! Of course, my own mum is an inspiration to me too – I don’t tell her often enough how much admiration I have for her.

If the Oscars showed us anything it’s that strong, passionate and utterly fantastic women are all around us and doing their thing every day.

Here (in no particular order) are just a few women from the endless list of strong females who inspire me for a myriad of reasons:

Ruth Langsford

I’ve always felt if I was to give my life story (which isn’t all that exciting before you start wondering!) to any presenter/journalist/interviewer, then I would choose Ruth. Focused, empathetic and cheeky, she’s my kind of woman and I’m full of admiration for her ever-branching career. Her appearance on Strictly Come Dancing to show women of her age that they could do it too, was inspirational in itself, however I was proud of her strength and determination and felt that she did Anton proud in turn. I look up to her and not just because I’m sure she’s taller than me!

Shirley Ballas

Staying with the Strictly Come Dancing theme, a recent addition to my best-loved and much admired women, is the new Head Judge on the show. As a Judge on the show she was measured, encouraging and warm in her approach. I feel that should I ever want Ballroom or Latin dance lessons she’s the one I’d call upon. Her speech at this year’s National Television Awards was inspirational in itself and the piece of music she chose to make her entrance to resonates. A better or finer role model I couldn’t imagine.

Fern Britton

Fern Britton was one of my first favourite television presenters and to this day I still view her as one of the most versatile individuals in the public eye. Her presenting style is relaxed, engaging and second to none. As a writer, her books reflect her personality and draw the reader in to share in her world. I am chomping at the bit to see her play the role of Mari in the Calendar Girls Musical when it goes on UK tour. She also recently shared a deeply personal story about her diagnosis of Sepsis and the fact she’s spoken out will hopefully draw more attention to the condition.

Yvonne Howard

Opera hasn’t been a genre of live performance that I’ve had much exposure to, Gilbert & Sullivan was the extent of my knowledge. My love of G&S led me to watch the ENO’s version of The Mikado which was filmed and shown on Sky Arts. I was so taken with Yvonne Howard (who played Katisha) that I embarked on a journey which has awoken me to the wonder of Opera. Searching for other performances from Yvonne has led me to discover a world I’ve been missing out on. I saw Yvonne perform at Three Choirs Festival in Worcester, last year and I am off to see her in the ENO’s Iolanthe this month. I haven’t been so excited for a production for a long time and I am constantly inspired by Yvonne and her immense talent, as well as her involvement in engaging children in Opera.

Julie Legrand

Julie Legrand is an actress who turned my head when I first saw her on screen in ITV’s Footballer’s Wives. She was playing a revolting character, and it would have been in my youthful opinionated nature to dismiss her as something quite awful and not worth my time. However, I was drawn to her, I recognised that she was an incredible actress playing a challenging role and I kept my eyes peeled for her from there on in. I’ve seen her on stage three times in very different roles. Electra in Gypsy, a fellow professional in Wit (starring alongside the outstanding Julie Hesmondhalgh) and as Mrs Malaprop in The Rivals. Recently on screen she amazed me in an episode of BBC One’s Call The Midwife. Julie never fails to entertain and astound me and she’s one of the loveliest ladies you could wish to meet, too! She’s a walking masterclass in performance.

Sarah-Jane Buckley

Here’s a triple threat who first appeared on my radar as Kathy Barnes on Channel Four’s Hollyoaks. I knew then that I was watching a super-talented actress and I wasn’t wrong. In Blood Brothers which she has toured with for almost two years now, she is the best Mrs Lyons I’ve seen – I can’t imagine anyone else in the role now. Nobody can have a meltdown or descend into madness on stage quite like Sarah-Jane can! However, I have also had the privilege of watching her play Mrs Johnstone, and THAT is a moment I will never forget. As a singer, her vocal ability is exceptional and as I saw for myself when I watched her in pantomime last year – she’s an amazing all-round entertainer. A beautiful soul inside and out, she deserves recognition every day, however I’m very glad to be able to name her as one of my inspirations on International Women’s Day.

My Top 10 Performers ~ 2017

Performers on stage… I’ve seen a few, but then again… no I’ve definitely seen a few and I’m full of admiration for so many of them. So, who made my top ten this year? Well I’ve had a difficult time whittling the list down but the top ten have each impressed me in ways that have continued to resonate as the year has worn on. Here we go, in no particular order!

Claire Machin ~ I think that The Girls has to be my favourite West End show of 2017 and although it didn’t make my top 5 shows list, it’s still up there as one of the highlights of my theatre-going calendar. I think Claire Machin was one of the crowning glories in that show and she’s also one of my favourite interviewees ever. I urge you to see this amazing lady on stage if you can, her voice, her tenacity and her energy are all infectious. She’s a star.

Daniel Taylor ~ I’ve seen this man in three different guises this year and excels in each of them. Whether he’s imitating Tommy Cooper, spitting and whining as Sammy in Blood Brothers are donning a pair of high heels and mocking Cinderella – he’s an actor de force and will always have my support. Amazing performer and one of the best I’ve seen in a long time, not just in 2017.

Michele Dotrice ~ She’s been one of my favourite on screen actors for years and years, however seeing her in The Girls (twice!) has cemented her as one of my stage favourites too. She can sing, she has comic timing in abundance and she whipped her kit off live on stage too – my hero! I would say I’d like to see more of Michele on stage, however….!

 

Graham Martin ~  I’ve always admired Graham’s ability to play multiple roles in Blood Brothers to an extremely high standard (to the point where I feel the show wouldn’t be the same without him), but he also impressed me in The Hollow at Stoke Repertory Theatre. I’m only sorry to have missed his performance as the King in pantomime this year. Graham’s one of the finest triple threats in my humble opinion.

Sarah Jane Buckley ~ Sarah Jane was my first ever favourite soap star, I’d not really had a favourite character in any of the soaps prior to Kathy Barnes rocking up in Hollyoaks and stirring things up. Sarah Jane is my favourite Mrs Lyons in Blood Brothers too, however this year I also had the chance to see her play Mrs Johnstone when she stepped in for Lyn Paul. She was absolutely sensational, I could wax lyrical forever. I’ve also finally seen her in pantomime this season, which was another amazing experience. There’s nothing Sarah Jane can’t do, she’s a natural in every genre of performance.

Tim Churchill ~ Another Blood Brothers star who is my favourite Mr Lyons for sure, but who also starred in Stoke Repertory Theatre’s The Hollow and showed another element to his acting talent. It’s given me a taste of what other roles he would lend himself to, a very talented actor.

Cathy O’Reilly ~ I was really impressed by Cathy’s performance in The Hollow at Stoke Repertory Theatre, she can convey so much without words and the movement and fluidity she put into the role has stuck with me. She’s a talented actor who I’m keen to see perform in other roles in the future. I believe she would be able to play a variety of characters, this introduction has been the tip of the iceberg.

Sean Jones ~ I’ve watched Sean as Mickey in Blood Brothers many, many times and he is inspirational in the role. I feel every nuance of emotion in his performance. So he most definitely makes it to my list because he’s the best Mickey in my favourite musical. I also saw him in as Silly Billy at in Sleeping Beauty Rhyl Pavilion Theatre and he was amazing. Completely reminiscent of my favourite comedy stars whom I grew up watching with comic timing to rival any stand up comedian.

Amy Thompson ~ Amy was on my radar on Channel 5 as a Presenter on Milkshake! because I have a three year old, however last year I was blown away by her performance as Sleeping Beauty at Malvern Theatres. This year, I’ve watched her in the role again and she wowed me all over again, so for her sheer triple threat ability – she’s one of my top performers of 2017.

Robert Daws ~ I’ve always rated Robert Daws, another actor who began as an on-screen favourite then blew me away with his stage roles. How The Other Half Loves was an excellent fit for him, he conveys so much without words and embodies every character he portrays. I highly recommend catching him in a theatre production, I was only sorry not to have been able to have seen How The Other Half Loves again.

 

 

Sleeping Beauty ~ Rhyl Pavilion Theatre

Sleeping Beauty stays at Rhyl Pavilion Theatre until 6 January 2018 – BOOK NOW! www.rhylpavilion.co.uk/sleeping-beauty/

Star rating: ******

I’ve seen more than my fair share of Pantomimes this season – oh yes I have! I’m having a ball and I’ve liberally dished out the stars which have been richly deserved. However, I have found one which deserves more than five stars, and that’s Sleeping Beauty which is gracing the stage of Rhyl Pavilion Theatre.

I couldn’t find fault with this stunning spectacle if I tried and there’s not one weak link amongst an exceptional cast who each play a full role in the show. Unlike many shows I’ve seen before where a Fairy might only be seen for a few key scenes and a King would appear a handful of times – every character is at the hub of the perfectly paced production.

There’s a fantastic mixture of musical numbers and with Sarah Jane Buckley as Fairy Snowflake, Vicky Entwistle as Carabosse and Amy Thompson as Sleeping Beauty herself, at the helm, musically the show is already in superb hands. All three female leads have stunning vocal capability which they demonstrate to the maximum. Add Sean Jones to the mix as the hilarious Silly Billy and Chris Warner Drake as the Prince and the performance level is taken to another dimension. With Charles Burden as Nanny Glucose bringing a wealth of experience to the show and Sam Patrick making an excellent Pantomime debut.

The combination of modern material blended with traditional madcap pantomime high-jinx delighted the packed house and truly makes this a pantomime with something for everyone. Family orientated with jokes for adults and the smaller members of the audience.

The scenery is quite something, providing an elaborate backdrop fitting for the fairy tale. There are a few special effects which I won’t spoil, however the quality of the content means that effects are merely a bonus feature. Magic is created by every actor on stage who are each giving 110% to make this a pantomime de force.

The opportunities for audience participation are plentiful, the fourth wall is smashed, just as it should be. Sean Jones is nothing short of a comedy genius and his natural talent is reminiscent of the comedy heroes I grew up watching. Charles Burden’s Nanny Glucose is an able sidekick for Billy, a traditional Dame indeed with many quick changes and a superb range of costumes. Chris Warner Drake played the Prince as a solid, dependable hero and he was a perfect match for Amy Thompson as the gentile and beautiful Princess. I’ve seen Thompson as Sleeping Beauty previously and she never fails to impress me, she is one of the finest Pantomime Princesses I’ve seen. Vicky Entwistle as Carabosse was a revelation to me, such a seething, feisty and fiery baddie – Entwistle embraces the role and gave an outstanding performance. As for Sarah-Jane Buckley, she’s the epitome of magic, sparkle and silliness. She’s glitzy, glittery and also offers precise comic timing and a West Country accent! The best Fairy in Panto-land, in my humble opinion.

If you’re in need of a post-Christmas pick-me-up then this seaside extravaganza is just the ticket and you’ve got just over a week to see it.

Blood Brothers ~ Theatre Royal, Nottingham

Blood Brothers is on UK tour, all details can be found here: Blood Brothers UK Tour

Star rating: *****

Blood Brothers is one of Break A Leg’s favourites and it’s always a joy to review the show, the dynamics are different each time and yet the overall drama, comic timing and splendour of the production never waivers.

The story of the Johnstone twins who were separated at birth is led by the one and only Lyn Paul who has vocal ability which lends itself so perfectly to the role of Mrs Johnstone. Tell Me It’s Not True is a number which she has undoubtedly made her own. It’s fair to say that Mrs J fits Lyn Paul like a glove. Sarah Jane Buckley is a fine match for her as Mrs Lyons, I actually can’t imagine anyone else playing Mrs Lyons now – and yet I was lucky enough to see her as Mrs Johnstone when she understudied the role (see review here:  Sarah Jane Buckley Review) I don’t think I can elaborate on that experience any better than I did in that mini review!

I enjoyed the perspective I had on the set and backdrop on this occasion, I notice something different each time and I felt drawn in by the lights of Liverpool and particularly delighted in the ways in which the lighting accentuate the mood of the narrator (played terrifically by Chris Chisnall, so sinister and yet the softness of the heart of the character does shine through). Shoes Upon The Table is my absolute favourite song in the show, the strong, rousing beat of the music reflects the seriousness of the situation and I find its reprises are so in keeping with the nuances of the musical.

Sean Jones is an exceptional Mickey, from the 7 (nearly 8) year old with his hole-riddled pullover which he can pull down over his knees to the troubled and almost terrifying adult he becomes as a result of life’s twists and turns. Together with Mark Hutchinson as Edward, they have believable chemistry and the relationship with Linda (Danielle Corlass) has so many dimensions, its a clever little web. It’s clear that Linda loves both of the boys but in widely different ways and I feel sure that had the shoe been on the other foot, she would have had her heard turned by Mickey for different reasons leaving ‘Eddie’ jealous and suspicious.

The ensemble who play numerous roles between them should also be commended for the slickness with which they move from character to character. Graham Martin, Graeme Kinniburgh, Andy Owens, Alison Crawford, Tim Churchill and Amy-Jane Ollies make a tight-knit group who are each responsible for keeping the action flowing. I especially enjoyed Daniel Taylor’s portrayal of Sammy, I think he’s the best I’ve seen in the role.

This musical will continue to stand the test of time, I’m confident of that, and with popular tunes such as Marilyn Monroe, My Child and Easy Terms at the helm – it’s not difficult to see why the show packs houses out all over the UK.

 

 

 

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